Does MacWorld Expo have a future?

Can this event survive now that Apple doesn't attend?

MacWorld Expo

Every year, the Apple faithful converge upon San Francisco's Moscone Center for the annual MacWorld Expo. They come from near and far, regardless of political view, social background or nationality, and all of them united in their love of Apple products. It's a technological pilgrimage.

Very few companies have fans willing to travel so far to meet up and check out their latest products. Try to imagine a Dell world Expo. You can't, because it would never happen. Even Microsoft fails to evoke the dedication from its users like Apple does.

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MacWorld is an IDG (International Data Group) event, but it's Apple's show. At least, that's the way it used to be. Up until this year, fans could expect a keynote from Steve Jobs or another Apple executive to kick off the Expo. Steve and company would saunter onto the stage and show us exactly how we would be spending our Christmas money. Whether it was a groundbreaking device like the iPhone or just an update to Apple's iLife, we sat in rapt attention.

And as soon as the Expo floor opened, we'd run immediately to the Apple booth. It's safe to say that Apple and its products have been the centrepiece of the Expo.

Apple no show

When Apple dropped the bombshell at last year's MacWorld Expo that it would no longer be attending the event, the Apple community became concerned – and rightfully so. It wasn't just that the Expo would be missing its main vendor; in the past, whenever Apple pulled out of an Expo it spelled certain doom for that event – when Apple quit the Paris and Boston Expos, both events disappeared.

History wasn't on our side. So immediately, the community began to question whether or not the San Francisco event could weather such a significant setback. The company that puts on the annual event, IDG, decided to go ahead with its plan to put on MacWorld Expo 2010

Of course, the event had a few changes. First of all, it was moved from the traditional second week of January to 9-13 February, with the Expo floor open Thursday through Saturday instead of the usual Tuesday through Friday. While we lost a day on the floor, we gained the ability to visit it on a Saturday. Nine-to-fivers no longer had to take a day off to take in the Apple-related wares on the Expo floor. The MacWorld Expo was finally a weekend event.

The second change, and probably the largest, was the size of the actual Expo floor. Typically, it was able to fill the large South Hall while filling most of the smaller North Hall. The Apple booth usually took centre stage in the larger South Hall. This year the South Hall was MacWorld Expo's ground zero. The smaller North Hall had the expected banners touting the new era of the exhibition. Apparently, IDG hoped to "Rock the New Era".

The company went so far as to produce a video of well-known Mac users proclaiming that they would be at the annual event. But while it was nice to know that iJustine would be at MacWorld, it didn't strike us as a reason to comb the Expo floor.

Open floor

When the official opening time came the floor soon became crowded. The usual suspects started to fill the hall: old-school, hardcore Mac users; hipsters with their bike messenger bags slung around their shoulders; command line masters with neck beards and sudo skills; graphic designers; families with every iPod; iPhone app junkies – they all intermingled and soon enough we had a proper Expo worthy of the Moscone Center.

In fact walking through the South Hall of the Moscone Center was difficult in itself. Crowds of eager Apple fans milled around the booths selling hardware. Evidently the enthusiasm of previous years hadn't been squelched by the absence of Steve and his merry Mac makers. The crowds seemed to have caught some vendors by surprise.

Yet while the unexpected crowds were a pleasant surprise, that didn't hide the fact this was a slimmed-down version of the Expo. The smaller of the two halls wasn't filled to capacity. In fact, two sides of the hall had barriers up with tall curtains in an attempt to hide the fact that the entire hall hadn't sold out.

Securing big-name vendors without Apple's presence seemed to have been difficult for IDG. Adobe had already bowed out of the convention after 2008 and other big names decided that if Apple wasn't there, why should they be? Ironically, Microsoft was the largest name at the event, but its booth was nothing more than a wall of televisions showing us the antics of its wacky 'mascots.'

Many vendors, understanding that the MacWorld Expo was an excellent opportunity to speak to the press, had decided not to get a booth. Instead, some of them rented suites at one of the nearby hotels. Other vendors decided to forgo a booth or a room and simply scheduled to meet on the Expo floor. But the average Expo goer would never see what these companies had to offer.

We spoke to vendors who had decided to attend only a few weeks before. Some had not attended the MacWorld Expo previously and decided at the last minute that being in the middle of the Apple community was worth the expense. These MacWorld Expo newbies' booths were surrounded whenever we walked by, and it seems they had made the right decision attending. They got their names into the Mac consciousness, talked to the press, and were able to sell their wares to their customers.

The Expo goers we spoke to were as excited about the MacWorld Expo as ever. They travelled from across the country and in some cases from other continents just to bask in the glow of Appleness, sans Apple. Their enthusiasm is what IDG is counting on to keep the show going.

Judging from speaking to IDG, we concluded that as long as the MacWorld Expo hands out badges, they will come.

next year

So, it looks like reports of the Expo's death have been greatly exaggerated. If the Mac faithful continue to flock to San Francisco for the traditional get-together, then there's no doubting we'll meet again.